It’s that time of year again people. That season where the weather is shifting towards winter and the smell of fireplaces are filling the crisp air. The time in which people gather together to sing, drink beer and consume large quantities of sausages and pretzels. Yes people, I am talking about OKTOBERFEST! No other celebration in beer culture is more anticipated.
Chances are while most of us have enjoyed many years of the Oktoberfest festivities very few of us actually know the reason behind the celebration.
History of Oktoberfest –
The Oktoberfest tradition started in 1810 to celebrate the October 12th marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the festivities which were held over five days on the fields in front of the city gates. The main event of the original Oktoberfest was a horse race.
Anniversary celebrations were held annually thereafter that eventually became larger and more elaborate. An agricultural show was added during the second year. In 1818, a carousel and two swings were set up for the revelers. Such amusements were few in the first decades of the festival, but party-goers were amply entertained by the tree climbing competitions, wheel barrow and sack races, mush eating contests, barrel rolling races, and goose chases. By 1870s, mechanical rides were an expanding feature of the festival and in 1908, the festival boasted Germany’s first roller coaster. When the city began allowing beer on the fairgrounds, makeshift beer stands began cropping up, and their number increased steadily until they were eventually replaced by beer halls in 1896. The beer halls, like the beer tents of today, were sponsored by the local breweries.
The festival was eventually prolonged and moved ahead to September to allow for better weather conditions. Today, the last day of the festival is the first Sunday in October. In 2006, the Oktoberfest extended two extra days because the first Tuesday, October 3, was a national holiday. Over the past 200 years, Oktoberfest was canceled 24 times due to cholera epidemics and war.
Modern Day Oktoberfest
Today, the Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest festival in the world, with an international flavor characteristic of the 20th century. The modern celebration has replaced the small tents with giant brewery-sponsored beer halls that can hold up to 5,000 people apiece. The party has also grown in length, to become a 16-day extravaganza ending the first Sunday in October. The festival opens with a grand parade of the Oktoberfest “landlords” and breweries, and features traditional dancers and costumed performers, the Riflemen’s Procession, music…and, most definitely, beer!
Oktoberfest beer is of a variety called Märzen. Darker and stronger than traditional beer, Märzen contains up to 6% alcohol, is bottom-fermented, and is lagered for at least 30 days. Before the advent of modern refrigeration techniques, this type of beer was brewed in March (as its name suggests) and allowed to age through the summer, so that it was ready to drink by late summer or early fall. Like all German beer, the Oktoberfest beer is brewed according to strict German standards (called the Reinheitsgebot and in effect since 1516) that precisely define the four ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer: barley, hops, malt, and yeast.
Just 6 Munich breweries – Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten – are permitted to serve beer at the festival. 14 larger and several smaller beer tents and beer gardens provide enough seating for 98,000 visitors at a time. Beer is served by the Maß, a one-liter mug, and costs about 8 euros. Beer maids and waiters must be able to carry 10 of these beer-filled mugs at a time.
*Some information provided by Wikipedia and Destination360